From pretty pictures to raw emotions

Between Innocence and Consumption, a painting by Probir Gupta.

Between Innocence and Consumption, a painting by Probir Gupta.  

STARING AT Probir Gupta's work now, on view at Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, will not leave you raving about its beauty. But it will do much more - it will make you stop and think. It is not easy to go into this exhibition and leave without worrying about the countless problems that cry for solutions. Large canvases full of raw emotion, they bring issues forgotten in dusty newspapers to the "neutral" territory of art.

Not only about form, lines and colour, his canvases reflect his concerns. Ranging from AIDS to the Best Bakery Case to children's right to education, Probir is an artist who has moved from "pretty pictures" to grim reality. Sipping a cup of "chai", he talks about his true calling. "I sent my work to the National Human Rights Commission and they wondered what an artist could contribute to these issues. I started travelling round the country about six years ago and working with people who are activists. These people are in the field and actually do all the work. I don't think I could have managed to work with fellow artists like I have worked with these people," he says.

A tribute to the commitment of the people in the field, Probir's exhibition is a compilation of unresolved issues. A space to come in contact with Noor Ali - a leader of a gang that breaks locks in Sadar Bazar and Kashmere Gate - at age 8, "Transparencies in Black and White" forces the viewer to move out of their comfort zone and confront people who are much easier forgotten.

"There is excellent work that is being done but the media concentrates only on art that sells. The exorbitant prices that are quoted in Sotheby and unfortunately it is only the "branded" art that is highlighted. But over the last 10 years, my generation and the even younger artists have got involved with these issues and organising workshops," he claims.

Besides, paintings Probir has also got a few art installations at the exhibition - as these give him an added dimension that "flat" canvases are unable to achieve. With a huge bronze chimney to depict "Between Innocence and Consumption" the fate of children at John Abraham Bethany Home in Tandur - where children were regularly "given" to foreign visitors - Probir's work often raises uncomfortable questions like the ones the children of the mob violence in Gujarat asked: "Does God see all this? When will the case go to heaven before him?"

On view till October 15.

By Mandira Nayar

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